Final Project: Reception & Classical Mythology

For your final project, you are invited to 1) create a contemporary reception of a classical myth or mythological figure; 2) document the essential features of a classical myth using the artistic representations of that myth from the classical tradition; or 3) analyze a modern reception of a classical myth.
This project will provide a venue in which you can explore a myth, cultural connection, question, or character in more detail to synthesize, contextualize, or analyze a theme, trope, or character from Classical Mythology. Be creative!
Teamwork: You are encouraged to collaborate with up to two other classmates on this project.

Due: a physical copy outside my office by 5 p.m. on Friday 5/3 (flex day eligible).

Options for the Project

1) Create a work that engages some aspect of Classical Mythology.

For example, you could draw a set of comics; write a short play; compose and record a song; paint a picture; film a mythological moment (real or imagined). All creative projects must underscore essential themes and characteristics relevant to Classical mythology. And while enthusiasm is good–talent is required.

* an explication of what I mean by talent: I have none; if, with my meager ability, I could produce your creative project–or gods forfend better it–you probably chose a different venue in which to demonstrate your arete. That said, I encourage you to take risks with a creative project and I am happy to show you examples of successful projects from the past to give you a better sense of my expectations.

All creative projects must be supported by a brief description (~250 words) of the project’s goals, process, symbolism, etc.

If you have in mind a particularly elaborate project, you may include more than 2 classmates. Please contact me as soon as possible to discuss options.

2) Create a media-rich poster that describes and analyzes a myth using artwork from the Classical Tradition

Your poster should summarize your myth, highlighting its interesting facets. This must be done using a combination of images and text.

Some general principles for your poster:

    • Most importantly, an academic poster should be FocusedOrdered, and Graphic.
    • A poster cannot possibly be comprehensive, but should be evocative, even provocative, and can employ symbolic imagery—all in order to intrigue and attract your audience.
    • Determine a hierarchy of information that foregrounds the most crucial elements of your myth. The most important or most intriguing element can become the visual focal point of your poster.
      • You can use different types of visual elements, including photographs and other graphics.
      • text can also be an exciting element of a visual presentation: words can be enlarged or artfully arranged, for example.
      • Think about your poster as telling the story of your myth and how others (and you) have interpreted it.

For more about crafting a poster, I recommend reading this introduction to making an academic poster, and especially the Quick Reference Guide

I also recommend that you take a look at Beautiful Evidence (P93.5 .T84 2006) by Edward Tufte (on reserve), the alpha and omega of advice about the visual display of information.

Technical information for your poster:

Size: Posters should be 40 x 40 inches. Printing: Available in Magill Library.

 3) a short analytical essay (4-to-5-pages or ~1200-1500 words) that explores a question about Classical Mythology that has piqued your interest.

For example you could analyze a topic, theory, or text discussed in class (or not); you could research a theoretical model and provide a reading of a myth or text (e.g. a Structuralist or Formalist or Freudian reading of the myth of Minotaur); you could compare the representation of a mythic character, trope, or locale in two or more works (including text and artistic sources; ancient and/or modern); you could compare a Classical god or myth with an analogue in another culture; you could also analyze a modern interpretation of a mythical story or mythical themes as presented in music, dance, film, literature, or drama. (For this project, “modern” can include anything from the eighteenth century or later).

Note, this must be on a different topic than your previous Myth Lives! essay. Unlike that essay, you are free to discuss retellings of classical myth as well: e.g. a film that engages Classical themes explicitly (e.g. Contempt or Troy) or implicitly (e.g. Minority Report), a music composition (Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony; Handel’s Acis & Galatea), a poem or novel (e.g. Yeat’s “Leda and the Swan”, Tolkin’s Frodo as a Classical Hero (or not)).

For information about researching and citing a paper in Classics, please see the Classics Department Resource page.

If you have any questions about this project, please contact me as soon as possible.

Pluto’s Gate Discovered: The Plutonium ‘Gate To Hell’ Found In Ancient City Of Hierapolis

Huffington Post reports:

Hell is a hard place to describe in detail, since, after all, going there would require dying first. But in an effort to find out what the ancient version of the underworld looked like, archaeologists may have unearthed the gateway to Hades. According to the Italian news agency ANSA, a team of archeologists working in the ancient Phrygian city of Hierapolis in southwestern Turkey claims to have located the Plutonium, or Pluto’s Gate — an ancient pilgrim site considered the entryway to the underworld. A small cave near the temple of Apollo, the Plutonium grew in association with death from deadly gases it emitted.

tip o’ the pileus to Valerie!

Do We Need Another Hero?

Derek Bruff, in an article on increasing parental involvement in the collegiate lives and studies of their children, includes some interested data about the modern conception of heroes:

Undergraduates are also close to their parents and hold them in higher esteem than their predecessors. When students were asked whether they had heroes, half (51 percent) said yes (Undergraduate Survey, 2009). When asked to name their heroes, they didn’t cite celebrities or corporate, government, or social leaders. Less than 1 percent named people like Barack Obama, Martin Luther King Jr., the Dalai Lama, Ronald Reagan, Rosa Parks, Al Gore, Abraham Lincoln, Margaret Thatcher, their teachers, or their professors.

They dismissed cultural heroes. Student explained it this way: “With reality TV, you see these people who you might have looked up to just totally trashed and not doing moral enough right things. So why would you want to consider them heroes?” “In terms of cultural heroes…it’s hard because we don’t even see sports stars like that anymore. We don’t see politicians. We have a very cynical generation.” They saw the faults in these people magnified by the media, which made them unworthy to serve as heroes. “Hero is a cliché.” “It’s almost like when I think of hero, I think of superhero.”

Instead, a majority (54 percent) of undergraduates with heroes named their parents. In total, two-thirds (66 percent) cited a family member. God and Jesus (8 percent) followed distantly behind (Undergraduate Survey, 2009). Students said their heroes were “role models,” “mentors,” “[people who] had done tremendous things,” “someone to look up to.” The reasons for choosing parents dealt principally with the sacrifices they made, the opportunities and encouragements they gave their children, and their accomplishments in the world…

Mega kudos if you understand the allusion in this post’s title.

Q & A: Funny Phineus & Battlefield Prolixity

Sandra asks….

First, was the description of the Perseus’ wedding fight in Ovid meant to be funny? Because I thought it was hilarious, but I’m not sure if I was supposed to.

Humor is a nettlesome issue, since it is so influenced by transient cultural norms of what is expected and allowable in speech and action. Take the clip from the original Clash of the Titans that I showed in class. In it depiction of the arrival of the sea-monster, it is almost impossible for us to process the overwrought acting and the cheesy, overblown musical score as anything but parodic and humorous. Of course, at the time (the distant past of 1981), these were acceptable devices to indicate SERIOUS. EPIC. ACTION!!!

We should acknowledge that something similar could be at play in our reading of Ovid. Do we lack the proper cultural framework for understanding the scene as it was originally intended? Maybe. But Ovid quite frequently takes a situation that could be serious and plays it for laughs. And it is undeniable that his description of Phineus’ assault is excessive, and contains many seemingly comic moments. We might compare Odysseus’ assault on the feast of the suitors in Odyssey, Book 22. Homer’s scene is deadly and serious, infused with a macabre beauty and trenchant horror. One is struck immediately that Ovid’s scene is different. Is this because he’s writing for a different (Roman) audience? Perhaps, in part. But a sensitive reader would have to admit that it is open to a humorous reading.

Second, why do people keep making long speeches in the middle of action sequences? It seems fairly impractical, although I’m guessing it’s a literary thing.

Completely impractical in reality and utterly normal in epic. Let’s take the example from the Iliad that we read for Tuesday. In the crush of swords and spears, no one would pause to recount their genealogy, replete with the heroic deeds of ancestors. Perhaps someone might shout out “You know who I am, a@#$%(e ? I’m Glaucos, the son of Hippolochos!” But unlike a novel, where the narrator can pause time and recount at length past or future events, the epic narrator must convey such information in speech. Thus, we see the development of the artificial, at times even absurd, orations on the battlefield. So, yes, a “literary thing”, and quite an influential one.

Favorite Myths, Tabulated!

I so enjoyed reading about your favorite myths that I thought you might appreciate seeing the favorites of your classmates.

The myth of Persephone won the crown (12 votes) followed by the myths of Prometheus (7), Arachne (5), the Judgement of Paris (5–thanks to the re-enactors!), and Orpheus & Eurydice (4). Then there was a long tale of myths with a vote or three. Here there are:

  • Arcas & Callisto
  • Ages of Man
  • Actaeon
  • Birth of Aphrodite
  • Birth of Athena
  • Capture of Ares & Aphrodites
  • Dionysus @ Thebes
  • Erysichthon
  • Contest of Athena & Poseidon
  • Phaethon
  • Hermes & the lyre
  • Dido & Aeneas
  • Io & the Peacock
  • Aeneas in the Underworld
  • Pandora
  • Acis & Galatea

Videos and Models of the Parthenon

A number of videos about the Parthenon are available on-line:

This video, by the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, presents a wonderful visual history of the Parthenon in only a few minutes. At the end, a narrator reads an excerpt from Byron’s “Curse of Minerva” in condemnation of Lord Elgin’s removal of sculpture to the British Museum. For more information on the “Elgin Marble” Controversy, you can read Mary Beard’s excellent discussion here.

This short 5-minute video on the Parthenon from PBS’ “The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization”, narrated by Liam Neelson. It includes some good visuals, especially of the interior and the Frieze.

This short documentary includes discussion of the form and construction of the Parthenon:

Finally, the entire NOVA episode, Secrets of the Parthenon, is now available on It includes fascinating discussion about the current efforts to preserve the monument.

You may also be interested in these 3D models of the Acropolis for Google Earth:

  • 3D Model of Acropolis as it looks today: View in Google Earth
  • 3D Model of Athens in 150 CE, including the Acropolis, Walls, Houses near the Acropolis, the Dipylon and Sacred Gates, and more: View in Google Earth. Please note that this model includes structures that were built after the Classical period (notably, the Odeon of Herodes and Stoas on the South Slope of the Acropolis, and the Temple of Olympian Zeus, which was begun by Peisistratos, but only completed 750 years later during the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian).